Photo of two bears cuddling in Gatlinburg highlights importance of bear safety

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) – Bears in East Tennessee are not few and far between; therefore, it is essential that those who live in or visit the area know what to do when they encounter the animals.

A photo circulating on social media of what not to do when seeing a bear in the Smokies has once again highlighted the importance of bear safety.

A woman staying at the Quality Inn Creekside in Gatlinburg captured the photo of what appears to be two people putting out their hands and petting a bear.

In the social media post, the woman said: “This is why they kill bears. I can’t believe she did this. We had to tell her to stop over and over again.”

She told WVLT News that hotel workers were alerted and spoke to the people in the photo.

Bear being a pet in Gatlinburg(Misty Chrismon)

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Matt Cameron saw the photo and said the bear had clearly been intentionally fed by people before and was hoping for a handout. He also said that people’s actions were endangering the bear.

“While the people in these photos don’t appear to be feeding him, they are putting him in further danger by making him comfortable approaching people,” Cameron said. “At some point, many food-conditioned bears become aggressive and cause harm to humans.”

However, Cameron added that the couple were not doing anything illegal.

With about 1,500 black bears in the Appalachian Mountains area of ​​eastern Tennessee and North Carolina, what should you do when you see one in the future?

See also  Safety Town Improvements Bring Bulldog Community Together: Dates and Facts from Olmsted

It is important to remember that while bears may seem cute and approachable, they are still wild animals and should be respected. They can also be wild and unpredictable. Therefore, it is illegal to deliberately approach a bear. within 50 yards in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Approaching a bear at any distance that would disturb or displace it is also illegal.

The Tennessee state website also states never to feed bears: “The old adages: GARBAGE KILLS BEARS and A FEEDED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR couldn’t be truer,” the website reads. . The problem stems from habituation or getting a bear comfortable with humans, as you can see in the photo. Doing this can be deadly to a bear, the website states.

According to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Officials, “Park rangers issue citations for littering, feeding bears, and improper food storage. These citations can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences of up to six months.” Currently, there are no laws against the feeding (intentional or accidental) of bears in Tennessee.

In 2000, due to nuisance calls related to interactions with black bears in Sevier County, regulations were created that prohibit people from feeding black bears or leaving food or trash in a way that would attract the animals. However, they only apply to a certain area of ​​Gatlinburg.

“The regulations only apply to an area of ​​6 square miles. Gatlinburg and intended to create a buffer zone in hopes of deterring bears from going further into the city if they couldn’t get into the trash,” Cameron said. “Unfortunately, outside of the GSMNP and this buffer zone in Gatlinburg, there are no bans against bear feeding in Tennessee.”

See also  Special Rescues Help Sick Owners Find Their Pets' Next Home | News, Sports, Jobs

Bears that become comfortable in densely populated areas may begin to have contact with humans, leading state officials to step in and relocate or euthanize the animals.

According to officials, TWRA wildlife officers in the region annually respond to 500 to 1,000 bear-related calls in Sevier County.

“The overwhelming desire to have a close encounter with a black bear is strangely more powerful than common sense,” said Sgt. David Sexton, a wildlife officer who spent more than two decades at Sevier Co. “Many people intentionally feed bears without considering the dire consequences for the bears and the humans they leave behind.”

Wildlife officials said they don’t cull bears based on personal feelings; they use the black bear conflict matrixa statewide list of instructions on how they deal with bear encounters.

“We’re referring to what’s called the black bear conflict matrix, and it’s a chart that was designed by bear professionals from our state and from other states,” Cameron explained. “Guide our staff on how to deal with nuisance bears.”

For example, once a bear comes into contact with a human in a populated area, such as a residential neighborhood, Cameron said the TWRA had no choice but to put the bear down. The full matrix can be seen here:

The bear matrix guides wildlife officials on how to deal with bear encounters in the state.
The bear matrix guides wildlife officials on how to deal with bear encounters in the state.(TWR)

GSMNP has a list of steps you can take to protect bears; see them here. Park officials also recommend reporting visitors who violate bear guidelines, which you can do here.

Copyright 2022 WVLT. All rights reserved.